Friday, March 07, 2014

Protesting against the cuts - then voting for them

Thursday last week saw Gateshead Council's annual budget meeting which set the budget and council tax for the year ahead. There was a very visible public protest against the cuts in front of one of the main doors into the Civic Centre.  It was very difficult to avoid. After all, this was a public protest and people walking in and out of the building had to walk around the protest and the people snapping away with their cameras and phones. As I walked past, I spotted Labour councillors joining in the protest. You can see them in the photo above. They are the white haired lady towards the left of the picture, Helen Hughes in the red jacket, Lee Holmes (white shirt and Unison flag) and Malcolm Brain (standing by himself wearing a red tie). Having demonstrated their unity with the unions, publicly protested against the cuts and shown their ability to join in a photo op, the councillors headed back into the warmth of the Civic Centre for the big budget debate.

An interesting feature of this year's budget is that there is an underspend of £3.3 million. This is all the more surprising given that Labour last year protested that the cuts had gone too far. Yet here we have them cutting spending by a further £3.3 million on top of the cuts that were agreed last year. And their plan for the coming year's budget is to put all of that underspend into reserves rather than to spend any of it on the services they say they want to save from the axe.

Labour Councillors did have the opportunity on Thursday last week to put some of the underspend into services over the coming year which would otherwise be cut. Our budget amendment called for £1.5 million to scrap various cuts to children's services. Given the protest made by the likes of Cllr Brain just two hours before, it would be reasonable to assume Labour councillors would vote for our amendment. Don't assume anything of the sort! All Labour councillors present voted against our amendment.

During the debate, Cllr Brain called for the amendment to be defeated and claimed that we were only moving it to have the opportunity to write focus stories. This is somewhat rich given that it seems Cllr Brain's activities two hours earlier seemed to be more about having a photo taken (presumably for Labour election leaflets).

So, our amendment calling for some services to be saved went down to defeat at the hands of Labour councillors who just two hours earlier were calling for these services to be saved. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

By the way Cllr Brain, it was interesting that it was you who raised the issue of our Focus leaflets in the budget debate. Has this anything to do with the appearance of Focus leaflets in your ward? Feeling the heat?


Anonymous said...

Roll on the next Focus in Blaydon showing them up for what they are.

Anonymous said...

Surely, at a time when the cost of living is rising and fuel prices are increasingly unstable, it’s only prudent for the council to retain some money to cover future increases? Isn’t it? I'm glad they are saving some money back. Shouldn't I be?
I’ve been looking on line for information on the cuts that will affect me. Your piece is, to me, somewhat sneering and unpleasant. That isn’t what I want to be paying for in my elected officials. You come over to me, a Gateshead Council tax payer with no allegiance to any party, as the closest thing to our own King Joffrey; having used the public baths as a latrine for your own anti public sector prejudice, you are now intent on dancing in the blood of those sent to try to clean up your mess. I hope no one is fooled by this subterfuge.
Mike, High Spen (not ONE lib dem leaflet in three years on Bone Rill/ Towneley/ Strothers Terrace. Pop round any time for a chat)

Jonathan Wallace said...

Hello Mike. 2 points in reply to you. Firstly, I think you have missed the point about the article. It was not attacking the council for putting money into reserves. Our amendment put £1.6M into reserves. And yes, it is right that there should always be a cash reserve. The point about the article however was that Labour councillors were attacking the cuts at a protest but 2 hours later, when offered the chance to reduce the cuts, opted for the full cuts instead. Secondly, your analogy of "King Joffrey" doesn't stand up. After all, Lib Dems in government are clearing up the mess left by Labour whilst Labour sneer from the sidelines opposing every move to put things right.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response, although you haven't really answered my points. I was about to send an email to the copuncillors you mentioned with my comments, to bring this to their attention but there is no need now. You accept that the labour councillors had to keep some funds in reserve then attack them for not spending it- after all, you quote the full £3.3 million in your piece and don't mention the kind of fiscal prudity championed by your chancellor and his chums. You don't say how much should be retained for the likely cost increases the next twelve months may hold in store for us.
I compared you to King Joffrey because your trumpeting, about people trying to deal with the mess your party has created, reminded me of that Game of Thrones character. I also thought it sneering. I think my analogy regarding fouling the swimming pool then attacking the cleaners, is rather good, don't you? I'm sure I dont know as much as you about politics, but I am sure that a global economic meltdown wasn't caused by the last labour governments failings. I don't think the Spanish blame Gordon Brown that much, in the grand scheme of things. That would just be the sort of argument a person would use if they thought the electorate was thick. Do you think that? I've never voted for anyone but I'm becoming interested.
Send some leaflets to High Spen please.
Best wishes

Jonathan Wallace said...

Mike, it seems we are striking up quite a conversation. Your points and questions can all be answered by reading by budget meeting speech which I have now posted on this blog.

We are attempting to widen the area we deliver our Focus newsletters to but we also do an email newsletter. If you wish to sign up to it email me on